The Three Choices in Relationship Distress – Which will you choose?

Dan Wile suggests couples typically use three choices of action when faced with relational conflict:

  1. Attack and Defend a most hurtful way of handling things. This is where one party lashes out criticising their significant others character by finding fault and inadequacy and attacking them personally. This drives their mate away. When a person feels attacked they get defensive which also further distances and harms the relationship.
  2. Avoid or Deny. This is when you ignore or minimise your unhappy feelings about the issue at hand.  Self talk might sound like “It’s stupid to feel this way,” or “I just won’t think about it (say anything, ignore it or pretend it’s ok) and maybe it will go away.” “It’s no big deal.” This sort of downplaying really disheartens the partnership. When the issue continues it gets harder to maintain this avoidance.
  3. SelfDisclose and Connect. You can talk about how you feel about the issue and work on common understanding – this doesn’t mean you have to agree. You may not find the perfect solution or compromise but you have allowed for emotional connection and intimacy building.

Is there a particular style you identify yourself as using from the list? Be honest now. Here is your challenge – move beyond attack and defend, avoid and deny and use the only workable option self disclose and connect.

This will require courage and self-confrontation.

Read on for suggestions as to how to start to rebuild the intimacy with sharing yourself and reconnecting here:

Suggestions for self-disclosure and connection and taking the higher road to emotional maturity and intelligence.

A really great place to start according to Marriage Guru John M. Gottman Ph.D.

Is to focus on feelings in the moment. Know that you can talk about feelings with acting on them!

  • ”I feel so angry I want to scream at you.” Here you acknowledge your anger without the yelling, you can talk about the feeling of wanting to. You can talk about your anger. An exercise in self-restraint – are you mature enough?
  • ”I feel so defensive I just want to lash out at you.” But you don’t have to lash out. Again you can talk about the feeling of wanting to defend without actually defending.
  • “I feel so upset I want to leave.” Again you don’t have to leave. You can stay and talk about the feeling of wanting to withdraw. You can talk about being upset.
  • “I feel so scared that I want to ignore this problem (or make excuses/minimise) and hope it will go away.” You don’t have to ignore it. You can talk about how the issue makes you feel afraid and you can talk about your fear.

Talking about tour feelings in this way is not a magical elixir; you will still have problems and conflicts. But it does offer an opportunity to connect with that other person.

You have moved up a notch in terms of emotional maturity by not attacking and ceasing to withdraw, instead stretching yourself and taking a stand for connection.

If the other person can also be brave and self disclose you will feel a togetherness and support in the handling of issues. It is you both in support of each other is times of stress – the marital team.

Have the courage to take the third option on the list!

Adapted from The Relationship Cure. A 5-step guide to strengthening your marriage, family and friendships by John M. Gottman and Joan DeClaire. 2001

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